The path to a consistent golf swing

Mr X was flushing the ball. Every shot came off pure and was right out of the middle.

Shot after shot. And it was quite funny to me because;

– he told me he had a 20 handicap. What! This guy was a bushranger. 20 handicappers don’t normally hit the ball so well.

– he told me via email that he was terribly inconsistent and needed my help.

– we made a joke out of his great ball striking and he kept saying, “but when I lose it I really lose it”.

And then it happened. SNAP! He hit a shank. The ball went sideways and ended up in the neighbouring horse paddock (no horses were injured in this golf lesson).

Then a cold top. The ball didn’t get over the small dam in front on the tee.

Another shank. Followed by 3 or 4 more complete misshits.

What was going on here? I really couldn’t believe it.

“I told you I was inconsistent”, was all that Mr X was offering here.

How can one go from brilliant ball striking to something so awful? And I’m not exaggerating about the word “brilliant” here. When I picked up the balls later they were all in a nice little clump, a very consistent spread that any scratch marker would be proud of.

I stood there in disbelief for a few moments. I was trying to take in what I was seeing. One minute Mr X had the ball on a string. The next he was lost. It was chalk and cheese and I’m sure you’ve experienced the frustration of this type of inconsistency.

The rest of this post will go into how we were able to sort this mess out. Not only get him hitting the ball consistently, but doing it in a way that was less stressful. It happened quickly too. Read: nothing complicated to do or remember. In all honesty, what I’m going to share here has never failed – it’s 100% foolproof if you’re able to apply it.

The first thing here was not to hit the panic button. From a coaching point of view it’s easy to rack your brain and offer all sorts of instruction:

– swing slowly
– take your time
– watch the ball
– cock your wrists
– etc

Mr X was probably doing the same – trying desperately to work out what was going on:

– what am I doing wrong?
– why can’t I hit the ball?
– why do I always lose my swing?

I also think Mr X was pleased I got to witness his breakdown. It was a relief to him that I saw his inconsistency issue in full gory detail.

I relaxed, took a deep breath and focused on the job at hand. There was no need to make the situation worse by overloading Mr X’s brain with too many ideas. As the coach, this is the time to trust my ability and believe in the automatic process.

Minutes earlier Mr X was hitting the ball nicely. He also said he was able to feel the club head from start to finish – this is a sign that;

1. He was in the moment.
2. Wasn’t thinking too much about his swing
3. Essentially just hitting the ball and having a good time.

“Can you feel the club head now?”, I asked.

“Nope. I can’t feel anything”

Mr X has slipped from subconscious performance to manual control. His Pesky mind had taken over and he had essentially overridden his learning system with conscious thought. From here, any sort of decent performance is really difficult.

“Can you feel the club head now”, I asked

Another rotten shank. He was struggling, and badly.

The following is some of the most important instruction I can give. It is almost bullet proof to over analysis and will almost always get someone back in the game.

A tad more info: I had noticed Mr X was ever so slightly becoming more tedious. There was an extra waggle, a fraction more time over the ball and his swing appeared slightly more laboured, he had lost the flow. I need to add here that these things are really subtle – almost hidden to the untrained eye. It’s also hard to make someone aware of these issues and get them to apply it in a positive way. More instruction here only adds to the problem. The coach needs to tackle the issue from a different angle.

Here’s what I said next:

“Ok Mr X. I want you to imagine you’re walking along the beach with stick in hand. You’re just walking, enjoying the sun, fresh air and water. As you wander around you notice some rocks and you decide to give one of them a good whack.

How would you hit that rock with this stick?” I handed him his 8 iron.

Then something remarkable happened.

Mr X strolled into the ball, and in Happy Gilmore style, hit the ball. He didn’t settle, or get into a stance – he hit the ball while still moving. The shot was pure. Right out of the middle and dead straight.

“Nice”, was the only comment I could think of. Upon reflection, Mr X achieved the objectively perfectly. He hit the ball like it was a stone on the beach. It’s interesting to note how free this swing was, to see the flow and also the perfect strike. But we still had work to do.

“Ok, this time I want you to get into a stance, but you still want to hit the ball like it’s a silly rock, just lying on the ground”.

It’s important to add words like “silly” and “rock”. It helps calm the student and get them out of “thinking” mode. Thinking and analysis is what causes the problems and when we approach golf from a slightly different perspective (hitting stupid rocks) we can relax and learning can take place. Another point: despite what we think, our golf swing isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things. These crazy drills helps give you some perspective.

Mr X’s next effort was also a beauty. He strolled in (he was strolling now and not stiff and artificial), got settled and hit the ball. He played fast too. There was no stuffing about, no waggle, no checking of grip, stance and set up (like he was doing before). He simply walked in, got set and hit the ball. When you think about it, is there anything else we really need to do? Why can’t everyone play golf like this? Why do we make golf such a serious thing? Has “serious” ever really helped you? (lots of questions there but some important answers if you take the time).

This shot also came out nicely. A perfect shot in my opinion.

“You’re dancing”, I said.

I like the term dancing. You can’t dance when you over think your positions or your conscious of what you’re doing. You’ve gotta let go and be free like a bird. The less you think about what you’re doing the better you’ll do. It’s awkward to watch someone who dislikes dancing, tries too hard or is self conscious. Almost like a train wreck as each move is artificially contrived and forced out (I should know, I’m the worst dancer in the world. Seriously, I am. I bloody well hate it). It looks wrong but this is how many of us approach our golf swing. There’s no flow. You’re not dancing.

My X got what I was on about. He started from behind the ball, walked in (like he was dancing) and kept striking the ball. The shanks and duffs and horrible misshits were gone. He was back hitting the ball well again.

His swing started to flow nicely. I noticed a small movement that wasn’t there before. Just prior to taking the club away there was this small, almost imperceptible, movement of the hands and club towards the target. It helped him make his swing start better – the hands go forward (slightly) and the reaction to that little move is for the club to move away from the ball. It’s all really smooth and rhythmical. I call this a forward press and it’s close to impossible to teach.

It’s impossible to teach because if you ask the student to do a forward press it will be a contrived movement. It will be done consciously and for the wrong reason (because the coach asked me to). But when the swing flows (or dances) the good stuff happens and in Mr X’s case he naturally added a small forward press and his golf swing took on a new and improved flow. The club swung back with the right tempo and timing because it was a natural reaction to the forward press. And the forward press was a reaction to “hit those silly white rocks with this stupid club” idea. Mr X had gotten out of his own way. The technical thought had stopped and he was swinging the sticks.

He wasn’t aware of the forward press and I fought with the dilemma of telling him:

Do I tell him how great this is and how awesome his learning system but risk stuffing him up? (it’s a bit like asking a golfer if he breathes in or out on his backswing. That tends to stuff people up)

Or do I keep my mouth shut and let him continue?

I fought with this for a few minutes but told him. I was confident he’d be able to get this natural ball striking back if things did go awry for a little.

My X liked the idea of a forward press and the way he was hitting the ball. His mind was so occupied on “dancing” and hitting the rocks that there was no disruption of flow. 30 minutes had past since his last shank (it felt like 5 minutes) and he said,

“at least I’m not shanking now”.

He had found his consistent swing once again. And we found it not by trying to find it but by letting it find him. Setting out to find “your consistent” swing with swing instruction or some sort of tip defeats the purpose. Your learning system is perfectly capable of swinging the golf club that any sort of conscious control just gets in the way. So stop the conscious search – step back and let your true swing find you.

It’s the only way and is fool proof. I’ve never ever found this technique to fail. The hard part is getting adults to give up control long enough so the real magic can shine through.

The takeaway from this lesson: When you start to struggle with your swing and start to miss hit a few shots then please don’t panic. This is the time to relax and not overload your mind with all sorts of rules and regulations and stupid questions. Take step back and break golf down to something more simpler;

– can you make your swing dance?
– can you flow?
– are you able to hit that ball with that stick?
– are you able to step up to the ball and hit it like there’s no tomorrow?

Please leave your thoughts or questions below.

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